I hear from a lot of women, and some men too, desperate to learn if it is possible to find peace and happiness after domestic violence. This is what I want them to know.
It has been over two years since I left my violent ex.
Leaving him, it turns out, was the easiest part. First came the excruciating misery of loving a man who hated women in general and me in particular.
I was the Houdini of cognitive dissonance as I tried to square his vehement assertions that he loved me more than life, even as he systematically sought to destroy mine.
That was before I learned that men (and women) who abuse are incapable of love. I saw his terrifying jealousy and dogged drug and gambling addiction as signs of a damaged soul. I saw it as my job to fix him.
I was utterly invested in getting our relationship back to how it was before domestic violence scarred and scared me.
My heart and my mind was as dull and heavy as a worn key, going through the motions but no longer hopeful that life and happiness were on the other side of the locked door.
When I finally, inevitably, reached my boiling point, it came not as an epiphany but as a slow onset realisation I could no longer ignore if I wanted my son to have a peaceful and healthy childhood. It was time for me to act on a promise I made my partner when our child was just one day old.
“If your actions take us to the point in which I have to choose between the baby and you,” I told him from my maternity ward hospital bed, just minutes after the police officer had left.
“It’s not even a choice for me. My son will always come first.”
He’d dialled 999 in paranoid fear, thinking people had come to the hospital to attack him. At that moment, I saw what the domestic violence that began with my pregnancy really meant in terms of permanent consequences that a tear-drenched apology from him could not avert.
The act of leaving, which I successfully carried out nearly a year later, was easier than its aftermath. I loved him even when I left him. I loved him even as he stalked me. I loved him even when he looked me in the eyes and told me he’d kidnap our child and murder my parents. I loved him when I gave evidence in court against him.
Months later, after repeatedly being arrested and remanded and bailed only to harass me again, I cried when I learned he had finally been found guilty. It wasn’t entirely relief: it was also the finality of the judgement, which included a restraining order against him ever contacting me again.
I worried how he was coping without me, especially when the police told me the circumstances of their last arrest – they found him only when called to the scene of a brawl.
I kept putting one foot in front of the other. I plastered a smile on my face so few would guess at what I didn’t want to tell them, and the last thing they’d want to hear: that I was hurting.
I thought that the pain would never stop and couldn’t bear to have people judge me. I was supposed to be happy to be free, right? What was wrong with me that I couldn’t be happy?
I know now that recovery from domestic violence is a difficult journey. Survivors have to work every day at healing and resisting the trauma bond.
Our emotions are not a switch that can be flicked off and reset at will. And we must not beat ourselves up if we’re not motoring down that road to happiness as fast as we’d wish.
Two years later, I can honestly tell you this: I still hate the sound of a ringing telephone, loud noises, and angry voices. I still hurt sometimes. I still miss him, sometimes. But other times, whole days can go by without a painful memory popping into my head. I go weeks without nightmares or worse, the terrible sweet dreams of our happier moments.
I go out without that sick anxious feeling that I’ll need to ring him a dozen times. I can be at home without worrying about whether Jekyll or Hyde will walk through the door. I don’t have to deal with somebody’s erratic actions. I make decisions based on what’s right for my son, and for me – rather than my library of survival strategies. I’m not afraid. I am no longer in love with him.
I have zero regrets about closing the door on our relationship. I’m glad I did, and I’d make the same decision if I had my time over. I am proud of how far I’ve come. I have learned I’m stronger than I ever knew.
I’m even, dare I say it, happy. You can be too.
What advice would you offer to someone looking ahead to life after domestic violence? Does it get easier? How do you find yourself and get happy again? SHARE in the comments.